Just 18 months ago senior jockey Dwayne Dunn feared his career might be over as he struggled to recover from a back injury that kept him out of the saddle.
Now, with five weeks left of the racing season, the 42-year-old South Australian-born rider is on the cusp of achieving something neither he, nor his supporters, would have probably thought possible at this stage of his career: a Victorian metropolitan jockeys premiership.
Dunn hit the front in a tight three-way title race when he booted home a treble at Moonee Valley on Saturday to take his score to 48 winners for the season, a one-win lead over Damien Oliver and Craig Williams.
It was a sweet vindication for his judgment to spurn the chance to ride the strongly fancied Lumosty in the group 1 Tatt’s Tiara at the Gold Coast, as Robert Smerdon’s mare finished third behind another Victorian, Srikandi.
His two adversaries are in England, riding at the Royal Ascot festival, so this was Dunn’s chance to steal a march – and he did so with aplomb.
The former Adelaide premiership-winning jockey, who also had a long period in Hong Kong, has based himself in Melbourne full time since 2008 and quickly become one of the most consistently successful riders in the state.
But as he returned to the saddle in April of 2014 he would have thought his chances of a premiership had probably gone, given the strength of the competition and the depth in the jockey ranks.
But as the curtain begins to fall on the 2014-15 season, Dunn is right there and pitching.
He saluted in the first two races at Moonee Valley on the Robert Smerdon-trained Every Faith ($4.80) in the fillies and mares handicap that opened proceedings and then followed up on well-bred two-year-old Mawahib ($3.10 favourite) from the stable that has been his biggest supporter, the Team Hawkes operation.
Dunn then made it three aboard a South Australian raider Alcohol ($4.20), whom Richard Jolly sent east to win the Vital Healthcare Travis Harrison Cup, the day’s feature event.
Dunn went within a whisker of making it four for the day when he went down by a short-half head on Smerdon’s $19 outsider Westsouthwest in the Health Science Planning Handicap behind the Darren Weir-trained Ava’s Delight ($14).
Dunn is reluctant to get too far ahead of himself as he knows that this is one battle that will go down to the wire and that his major provider of ammunition, Team Hawkes, won’t have too many bullets to fire in the dark days of midwinter.
“I am thinking about it now and if it happens it happens. Sometimes the harder you try the less it happens for you. It’s great for your CV if you could win one. I thought it was all over at one point. It’s great to be back on track, my body seems to be holding together pretty well, hopefully I can keep the confidence going to the end of the season.
“I gave up Lumosty today to stay here. There’s no more carnivals after Brisbane until we start next season so I think Craig and Ollie start back on Wednesday.”
Dunn was not the only multiple scorer at the Valley. Patrick Moloney took his seasonal tally to 41 with wins on Shakespearean Lass ($4.80) and the heavily backed Word of Mouth ($2.40) for Leon and Troy Corstens.
He is a certainty to win the apprentices’ title now that his nearest pursuer, Regan Bayliss, has copped a lengthy suspension, and although he is only seven behind Dunn, Moloney describes his chances of winning the senior premiership as “pie in the sky”.
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